Cristin Richard's art studio takes up the entire living room and dining room in her Victorian home in Hubbard Farms on Detroit's southwest side. Life-size bras, panties, corsets, dresses and spiked pumps made of pig gut (or sausage casings) fill the space. They are the color of yellowed newsprint and as delicate and translucent as raw silk. Some of the pig-gut garments are on mannequins or suspended from the ceiling on fishing line, where they float like bordello ghosts.
Two tables are covered in heavy plastic secured with electrical tape. On one of the tables there's a covered container filled with pig gut soaking in brine. It smells like a strange mixture of glue and skin. Next to that, there are six naked gut-coated Barbies lying face down with their arms spread. They're being used as molds for a new series of small-scale sculptures that Richard refers to as "the crucifixes."
A graduate of the College for Creative Studies, Richard, 28, is employed full time as a color and trim designer. Her art was part of last year's Fringe Festival at the Music Hall, where she showed a small body of work and three live models wearing her "sausage couture." One of her lingerie and shoe sets, called "Playmates," is currently installed in the bedroom of Gil and Lila Silverman, the owners of the famed Fluxus collection in Detroit.
For the past few months, Richard has been getting ready for a group show she's curating at CPOP. "Conformity Exhibition: Live Conformists/Dead Troublemakers" will feature her own art along with work by Josh Band, James Brutus, Julio Dominguez, Michael Kearns, Nate Savino and the duo Nate Young and Alva Zivich.
She's enjoying taking the lead on the show, as she promotes fellow artists and makes a few of her own statements on religion, repression and conformity.
METRO TIMES: Is this the first time you've addressed your feelings about religion in your art?
CRISTIN RICHARD: I haven't commented on religion in the past. Now I'm starting to question things I didn't in the past, questioning my family of origin and how I was raised. The religion thing was always a stable thing that was never going to change. It plays with the whole conformity thing, because you're supposed to be this good little girl. But maybe not. Maybe you're just supposed to be yourself.
MT: How do you see yourself developing as a young artist?
RICHARD: I definitely see a level of maturity that's happening in my art. I used to hate what I was doing. I couldn't accept what I was doing. I thought if I could only work in a different medium or do a different thing, then maybe it would be better. Instead of just accepting who I was and going with what I taught myself. Now I'm beginning to understand why I've done things the way I have. And I'm learning to be happy with everything from the way I look and the way I act. I'm embracing my art again.
MT: Why did you start using pig gut in your art?
RICHARD: I had a professor at CCS, Susan Aaron-Taylor. She introduces all of her fiber students to gut, which is funny, because most people can't stand the smell and have to leave the room. She took us to the DIA and showed us some pieces that used gut. But I was also inspired by Inuits, who make seal-casing garments. So I started to develop my thesis about how they used every square inch of the animal and didn't waste a thing. Then I started experimenting with sausage casings.
MT: What drew you to it aesthetically?
RICHARD: I enjoy the texture you can get, the veins. There's a lot going on with the material. I developed a way of turning it into yardage and wrapping the mannequins to get the figurative forms. I tried cow, but it collected too many fatty deposits and it wouldn't dry. So pig was the best thing for me to work with.
MT: There's some obvious technical skill involved in making garments out of pig gut. Do you have experience sewing and designing clothes?
RICHARD: I always loved clothes. My Grandma Richard was into sewing a lot. I remember sitting on her lap when I was little and sewing. But that was a long time ago. I don't really sew at all. I use glue instead of stitching.
MT: You're wearing a cool vintage dress right now. Are you into fashion?
RICHARD: I like seeing what people can do with clothes. I like the way people express their individuality with clothes. But I think growing up in a conservative household with a Catholic upbringing, it was always prim and proper. There's that conformity issue, which is sort of the point of this show. But you don't have to be an artist to put an outfit together and say this is who I am.
MT: Do you refer to your work as sculpture?
RICHARD: Yeah. If people ask me, I usually say sculpture. That's partly because I don't really want to get down to the nitty-gritty and explain it. That may be part of my upbringing too. I don't want to explain that I'm a weirdo who plays with sausage casings. A lot of people are curious, but I still have that hang-up, "This is improper, and I don't want to talk about it." It's strange.
MT: And yet there's this expression of feminine beauty and sexuality that comes out of it.
RICHARD: I like the fact that it is a skin. I've spoken about this before. You can put on a different outfit as if it's a mask or different skin, another layer of your personality, or you can mask your identity. But it's translucent, so deep down, somewhere in there, there's somebody.
MT: Have ever molded gut on a human body?
RICHARD: No. Lately, I've thought about how I want to just wrap myself up in it and do some photographs.
MT: Where do you buy pig gut?
RICHARD: I get it at the Eastern Market. I buy it by the bundle, which is a plastic bag of intestines in brine. One bundle is the intestines of one animal.
MT: Is it expensive?
RICHARD: Last time I went, I bought five bundles. It cost me about $130, because the prices have gone up quite a bit. It used to be really cheap. I heard that there were some problems with diseases, and they had to import from China. It sounds like the rest of the U.S. economy. Even the sausage casings are being imported.
MT: Do they ever ask you what you're doing with this stuff?
RICHARD: They know me. I'm "the gut lady."
Norene Smith writes about art for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
"Conformity Exhibition: Live Conformists/Dead Troublemakers" opens 7–11 p.m. on Saturday, March 7, at CPOP Gallery, 4160 Woodward Ave., Detroit. The exhibit runs through the end of March; free. For more information, call 313-833-9901.